The following is from Santa Barbara Day Hikes by Ray Ford

“Oh gross, man.”

That’s what my high school students say to me when I tell them to check for ticks while we are out on a hike.

It used to be that all you had to worry about when it came to ticks was a gross-out or two, especially if you missed one on the periodic “body checks” that are necessary in the backcountry, and you were forced to use a pair of tweezers (a handy item, even on day hikes) to twist one out.

But today, Lyme disease has everyone worried. This tick-borne bacterial infection is spreading faster than any other ailment with the exception of AIDS. It has been reported in 46 states and afflicted more than 30,000 in the US last year.

Lyme disease is caused by a spiral bacterium spread to animals and humans by ticks. When the tiny creatures bite they can inject the organism into you. One of the  characteristics of ticks which make them a perfect host for such a disease is their ability to transmit microorganisms from one generation of ticks to the next. At the site of the bite, a red, circular rash with a clearing in the center appears. A few days or weeks after the bite, flu-like symptoms may appear, as well as pain in the joints. If untreated the symptoms can spread to the nervous system and cause aching in the joints similar to arthritis.

Lyme disease can be cured if treated early through the use of penicillin or other antibiotics. Unfortunately, because the tick bite may not be noticed or possibly because the symptoms are vague enough either to be ignored or mis-diagnosed, the disease is often not treated quickly enough. While rarely fatal or long lasting, it can cause chronic symptoms that are difficult to get rid of.

Fortunately for us, the main areas where this disease has been contracted are east of the Rockies, in the Midwest and Northeast, especially New York. Still, you can minimize the danger of your contracting Lyme disease (or being bitten by any tick). A vaccine for dogs is available though there is some concern among physicians about its long term effect or safety. For more information consult your physician.

You’ll find ticks in some areas and some time frames more than others. Narrow trails, especially those with grass fringes that you can rub against, such as the Matias Potrero Trail, are prime tick areas. The period between March and June is tick season, though you’ll find them (or more accurately, they’ll find you) throughout the year. 

One way to help is to dress and act accordingly. Pants tucked into your socks will help keep them off your legs and light-colored clothing will help you spot them. An insect repellants such as DEET can help repel them. Above all, a full body check should be done every half hour or so, more often in areas of heavy infestation.

Despite these precautions, should you find one beginning to burrow in, don’t panic. A tick takes a number of hours to latch on and ready itself to feed. It may be as much as 24 hours before it is capable of transmitting a bacterial infection to you.

To remove the tick (“Oh gross, man”) place the tips of your tweezers over the mouth parts, as close to the skin as you can get them. This lessens the danger of pulling off the body and leaving the mouth parts behind. Pull steadily away from the skin extremely slowly until the tick lets go. I’ve always had good success twisting counterclockwise while pulling (I’ve been told they bore into you in a clockwise direction). If the head stays in it should work itself out in a few days. If not, see your doctor.

Afterwards wash the bite area, apply a disinfectant, and cover with a bandaid.

Thursday, July 23, 2015